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City prepares for full rollout of 311 information hotline.



Need to report graffiti or let the city know that your trash didn't get picked up? Or maybe you just need to know where to vote next Election Day.

Soon, all of the above will be handled by one city hotline. The full rollout of the city's 311 information line is slated for mid-January, although the hotline has been operating at a limited capacity through the Mayor's Citizens Service Center for about a year.

"Citizens can call 311 with questions about how to pay taxes, problems with street drug sales in their neighborhood, or to complain about a city service or employee," city CAO George Little said. "Or they can just call and tell us we're doing a great job. We'll take those calls too."

Other major cities have operated 311 systems to streamline questions about public services for years, but Memphis residents have had to call a different number for each problem.

"You might call the Mayor's Citizens Service Center for an issue. But Public Works has a number, and Public Services and Neighborhoods has a number," Little said. "We wanted 311 to be a one-stop shop."

For the past year, when residents dial 3-1-1, they've been routed to the Mayor's Citizens Service Center. But mid-month, a new state-of-the-art call center, located inside City Hall, should be active. Existing staff from various city departments will take calls, and at least one 311 employee will be fluent in Spanish.

In addition to the full rollout of the phone line, the city will also introduce a 311 website, where residents can ask questions online or consult a Frequently Asked Questions page to find a solution to a problem.

"The call center will be equipped with the technology to take calls and track the information, and we'll have a way to show, in real time, the kind of call volume and incidents that are coming in," Little said. "Whoever is in that office can see if we're getting a lot of calls about trash not being picked up in one neighborhood, and then we can find out what is going on with that [garbage] truck."

Little said the call center would also be able to determine if a certain city vendor is responsible for a rash of complaints. For example, if there are multiple pothole calls, they'll have the data to track down which companies worked on the areas of roadway in question. If patterns emerge, the city can approach the responsible vendor and request a repair.

Calls that aren't appropriate for the city to deal with will be referred to the right agency. For example, if a blight complaint references a county-owned tax property, a 311 employee will refer the call to the county.

"But we won't just tell you to call the county. We'll get you to a specific office, and we'll also forward that information to that office," Little said.

Additionally, the 311 line is expected to cut down on the number of non-emergency calls placed to the county's 911 emergency line.

Raymond Chiozza, director of the Shelby County Emergency Communications District, admits that he's not too familiar with 311, but he's hoping it helps ease the strain on 911 resources.

"Anything the city does to take non-emergency calls off 911 would be a positive thing," he said.

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